April 10th, 2016

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Guests: Rep. Dan Donovan and Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow

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Congressman Dan Donovan

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Donovan on who he is supporting in the April 19th presidential primary, and why:

DD: “With the Republican primary at hand now, one of the things that I think is very important is that for the first time in a very long time, New Yorkers are going to have a say. … If Mr. Trump and Hillary Clinton become the nominees of their respective parties, for the first time since Franklin Roosevelt, we’ll have a New Yorker as President of the United States. I think that when you look at how close these primaries have been run on both sides of the aisle, political scientists will be studying this cycle for decades to come because I don’t think anyone understands it. … I have publicly said that I think John Kasich would make a good president, but I will support whoever the Republican nominee is in November. I think the Republican Party’s goal here—and I’ve heard people say they won’t support Mr. Trump or Senator Cruz if they win or they won’t support Governor Kasich … but the Republicans should coalesce around whoever their nominee is because the goal for that party, our party, should be to make sure that Hillary Clinton is not the next President of the United States.”

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Donovan on the Republican National Convention in July:

DD: “My understanding is that at the convention the rules can be changed. So the Rules Committee—and they are selecting those people for that committee now—the Rules Committee may end up dictating who the nominee is because apparently they can change the rules even at the convention. There are some people who believe that the frontrunner should get the nomination and the convention should support the frontrunner even if they don’t have the adequate number of delegates during the first series of votes. There are other people who believe that it would be unfair to pick the second or third vote-getters, delegate-getters, and it should be a fresh face, someone new … not any of the people who have already run. … If you remember, back when this all started there was 17 Republicans vying for the nomination. We’re down to 3 so it’s going to be an incredibly interesting time. …

Back when Mayor Bloomberg was considering running, it was talked about at least down in Congress that if it was a three-person general election and nobody got the 270 Electoral College votes needed to win the presidency that the House of Representatives would then select the President of the United States. And to make it even more interesting, it’s not the current Congress, it’s the one that gets elected in November. So if the Democrats retake the Senate, that means that the House would have elected a Republican president and the Senate would have elected a Democratic vice president. So this entire election cycle, as historic as it may already be, could’ve been an even greater study for the future for political scientists.”

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Donovan on whether he is concerned that the Republican presidential nominee could hurt his fellow New York GOP Congress member’s reelection chances; the joint fundraising committee he has formed with Reps. Zeldin and Katko and candidate John Faso; Donovan’s own 2016 reelection chances; and Donovan’s belief that Hillary Clinton, if she is the nominee, could have more of an impact on Democratic candidates in New York State than whoever is the Republican nominee will have on the state’s GOP candidates:

DD: “I think whoever our nominee is, the voters are smart enough to vote for people based on their record. … We’ve had a tremendous first 10 months in Congress and I had a very successful 12 years as D.A. of Staten Island. So we will remind the voters of things that we’ve done. So I think the voters are smart enough to vote for who they believe is the right person for President and then vote for the right person who they believe they want representing them in Congress. I was never really concerned about who my opponent was or who was on the top of the ticket.

The joint fundraising is something that we’ve (done) … to help one another out. Some of my colleagues are more vulnerable than others. I have never served in the minority but I understand that the majority is much nicer. … The goal here is to make sure that the House stays in Republican hands. And those in my conference who are able to go to victory without much opposition are there to help those who will have a more difficult time.

I’ve never taken an election—this is the sixth time I’ve run—I’ve never taken an election for granted. You have an opponent. That opponent will get votes. More so, maybe in this case, if Hillary is on top of the ticket, she may have more of an influence on the Democratic nominee for Congress than the Republican presidential nominee would have on me. So we’re going to work hard, continue to work hard. We’re going to remind the voters of our accomplishments and to tell them how important it is to have one Republican in the New York City delegation in Congress to do things like the transportation bill, like Zadroga, and hopefully they’ll understand and vote for me.”

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Donovan on how New York is perceived in D.C., particularly by his Republican colleagues:

DD: “A lot of our differences in Washington, many of which aren’t partisan—I mean I’ve paired up with many of my Democratic colleagues in New York—Hakeem Jeffries and I are working on criminal justice reform together—I find many of our differences are geographic.

My colleagues, when the transportation bill came out—it was called surface transportation. Well, people in Ames, Iowa or Casper, Wyoming don’t have subways. They believe all the money should be spent on surface transportation, things on the ground, above the ground. So they think that New York’s subway system shouldn’t be funded by federal dollars. So I find that a lot of our differences seem to be geographic.

But I also feel that people believe that particular people who represent poorer, less affluent areas in our country believe that New York shouldn’t be entitled to any of the money that they send down to Washington because we have enough of our own money to spend on our needs and that those monies should be spent on poorer communities. New York is entitled to all of the funding that everyone else is entitled to. In fact, because of our population, because of the economy that grows here, and as you said, it grows enough that every Republican will come here and raise money. New York is entitled to its fair share and I will be in Washington as long as the people continue to elect me to make sure I fight for their fair share.”

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Assemblyman J. Gary Pretlow

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Pretlow on why he supports campaign finance reform and closing the LLC loophole, but opposes a public matching funds system, because it “creates criminals” and will cost far more than it is estimated to:

GP: “I do think there should be campaign finance reform. I think the LLC loophole should definitely be closed. But as far as public funding of campaigns, I don’t think that that’s a good thing. …

New York City spends around $55 million for their campaign finance (program) out of taxpayer money. They have 52 [sic] Council people, 5 Borough Presidents, the Mayor and a Comptroller and a Public Advocate. We have 213 legislators, a Governor, a Comptroller, and they’re saying it’s only going to cost $40 million dollars? That’s fuzzy money. … It’s going to cost at least $250 million for public financing.

And all it does is create—how do I put this?—I don’t want to say (it) creates criminals, but I guess I just did. It makes people do bad things. In New York City right now, when there’s a Council seat open, you’ll see 9 people jump in the race. And what they do is in most cases is they raise a little money. It’s matched 6-1 by the city and then they hire their friends and relatives or whatever and they never run a real campaign and they just get to keep the money. If they buy a copy machine and a fax machine, they keep that after their failed campaign. And in 90% of the time the incumbent still wins because people know who the incumbents are and people know me. I’ve been doing this since the mid-80s. People in my district know me and know what I stand for. And if anytime they are unhappy with me, they can let me know at the ballot box.”

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Pretlow on the state’s public matching funds pilot program in the 2014 State Comptroller’s race:

GP: “We had an experiment for public financing with the comptroller’s race, if you recall. The last comptroller’s race did fall under public financing and the Comptroller, Tom DiNapoli, opted out of it.”

Bill Samuels: “But the fact is that … it was a laughable … Cuomo dodge of facing the issue and, you know, there’s no one I respect more than Tom DiNapoli, but none of us, at least of my friends, criticized him for opting out. You really think that was a fair experiment?”

GP: “Probably not.”

BS: “Good!”

MP: “And the Republican candidate wasn’t able to make the match. That’s correct, right, Assemblyman?”

GP: “Yes.”

MP: “So … it was an experiment that we really didn’t get to experiment with.”

GP: “Yes, because (DiNapoli) opted out. If he had opted in, then we would have seen where that went. But the problem is that people with money are the only ones running for office. They’ll opt out and spend their own money and do whatever it is they want to do. Then the question becomes do you want a legislature of just rich people, similar to what is happening in Congress now?”

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Pretlow responds to Bill Samuels’ suggestion that the revenue from casino gambling be used to fund a public matching funds system, instead of taxpayer dollars:

GP: “I have not that thought of using that money (for that purpose), but my main goal is to have the best education system in the United States in New York State and the money that we get from them now for the most part goes to education. As quiet as it is kept, the state spends around $26 billion on education. And then the communities spend another $25 billion. So we’re spending a lot of money on education now and it’s not really working the way I would like to see it work. But I do think that technology has to be advanced in our schools and the money that we’re getting from—I can only speak for the racinos now because the casinos are not online yet—all goes to education.”

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Pretlow responds to whether the criticism was fair from members of the Assembly Republican minority and journalists like Bill Hammond in Politico that the Assembly committee rules and transparency reform committee he co-chaired operated in a non-transparent manner:

GP: “No, but Mr. Hammond has the right to say anything that he wants. We wanted to finish this by last June. That didn’t happen for various reasons. Basically, (Assemblyman) Brian (Kavanagh, the committee’s co-chair) and I worked from July through December, just the two of us, on getting most of the recommendations. I contacted every single member of the majority. We did not contact any Republicans. Yet, if you look at what we did, a good percentage of the recommendations that we made were recommendations that were formally made for rules changes by the Republicans and that’s why most of them voted for it. They never vote for our rules changes. It’s always a straight party-line vote. But if you look at the new rules that we put into place, most of the Republicans voted in favor because we listened to them. They weren’t necessarily part of the working group because they’re usually more obstructionist than helpers. But we did have their ideas on paper and we did incorporate many of their ideas in our new rules.”

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Pretlow alludes to additional reforms that Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie agreed to that were not put down on paper, but he won’t reveal what they are:

GP: “There are some reforms that we put in that are not on paper and I’ll choose not to share them with you now. Sorry. Because we didn’t want to put it on paper because… we just didn’t. But we did correspond with the Speaker on them and he has agreed to implement those changes.”

Morgan Pehme: “We’ll keep them just between you and us and our listeners.”

GP: “As long as one person knows the secret, it’s not a secret.”

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Pretlow on whether lobbying money bought the legalization of mixed martial arts in Albany:

GP: “No… MMA would have passed years ago if it wasn’t for the Women’s Coalition in the Assembly. Former Speaker Silver listened to the women and they came up with some study that said that mixed martial arts led to spousal abuse and it was anti-woman and things of that nature.

And we didn’t have 76 sponsors of it so former Speaker Silver didn’t want it. As soon as we got 76 sponsors and a Governor that was in favor of it, it happened. I don’t think it had that much to do with the lobbying money that was spent. You know, the bulk of that lobbying money is spent on advertising and paying the lobbyists themselves. I don’t think I got anything as a contribution from any of them. I may have. I haven’t checked, to be honest with you. I don’t know. My support of MMA was never about money. It was always about whether I thought it was good for the state or not and whether the state could financially benefit or not. And I always thought that it would financially benefit and that’s why I supported it.”

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Pretlow raises the alarm about a $35 million annual giveaway to gambling giant Genting included in the recently passed budget:

GP: “There was a piece in the budget that I was extremely unhappy about. … You know we have racinos at all the racetracks and the racino’s main purpose is to fund education. And prior to this year’s budget, the operators of the racino at Aqueduct weren’t getting capital money, money to expand, because they made so much money on the other side. The Governor allowed them this year to take 4% of their gross handle as capital, which works out to about $35 million. This money comes right out of our education fund and I’ve been extremely upset about it. And I’ve been telling anyone who would listen to me that we have to get this to change; that we’re looking at giving Genting Corporation, which is one of the richest corporations around, a $35 million annual gift, which … doesn’t sit well with me.”

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Pretlow on why he is upset with the Lago casino:

GP: “Lago, which is now del Lago (Resort & Casino) … it was supposed to have been in the Finger Lakes region, the Finger Lakes district. And this little piece, little finger that the governor put in the Finger Lakes is up by Rochester, New York. … No one would ever think that Rochester was part of the Finger Lakes. We all thought that Tioga, where the fourth one ultimately went—it’s the area of Binghamton, that area—is where the fourth casino would have gone. The reason I have issues with (Lago) is because it’s too close to all the other gaming facilities. Finger Lakes Racetrack, which has VLT operations—and the VLTs also support racing—are going to lose because they’re only 30 miles from the new casino in Tyre, New York, which is where Lago is located. The Oneidas are close, so they built another casino closer to Tyre. It’s like a war going on up there with casinos and it’s really hurting that area. So Lago is saying that they’re going to supply more jobs, but they’re just taking jobs from the existing casinos now.”

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